Dear Crucial Skills,
I am struggling to regain my supervisor’s trust. I have made some errors—of omission, mainly—and have been written up. There are some extenuating circumstances such as an ill parent and my own depression and anxiety, but the bottom line is that my supervisor expects me to do my job.
She is micromanaging me now—searching for errors. I am afraid of losing my job, so I am always looking over my shoulder, wondering what she will find next. Fear and anxiety can create more mistakes, and I’m afraid I’ve created a dangerous pattern.
What else can I do to regain her confidence and trust and get out from under the microscope?
Trying to be Trustworthy
Thanks for your brave question. You’ve already avoided two mistakes that keep many of us stuck. You’ve accepted that you aren’t perfect, and you aren’t blaming others for your problems. You are taking responsibility, and that puts you on the right track. I think I can help.
Examine your story. You are telling yourself a very anxiety-provoking story—that your supervisor has you under a microscope, searching for errors, with the intent of firing you. Are you sure this story is correct? Interrogate your story by asking two questions: “Do I really have all the facts I need to be sure my story is correct?” and “Is there any other story that could fit this same set of facts?”
In particular, ask yourself whether you are misreading your supervisor’s motives. We humans tend to see the worst, rather than the best, in others’ motives. This bias is so common that psychologists have given it a name, the fundamental attribution error. What if you are wrong about your supervisor’s motives? What if your supervisor is rooting for you to succeed and sees her micromanagement as “helpful coaching”?
Clarify your intentions. It’s also possible your supervisor has misread your motives, so make them clear. Draw a line between your past errors and your new situation. Sometimes, an apology can be a good way to draw this line and make it clear that your motives are aligned with hers. In addition, do your best to remove any lingering doubts your supervisor might have about the extenuating circumstances you’ve described. Explain how you’ve resolved or stabilized them so they won’t undermine your work going forward.
Take the initiative. Act as if your supervisor is providing helpful coaching, and become the eager learner who is striving to reach perfection. When she searches for errors in your work, tell yourself she is trying to help and make an effort to learn from her. Use these times to ask her about her priorities, and to offer your help. Use this period to hone your craft and become the very best at your job.
Trust comes from sacrifice. Here is the hard part. Meeting the requirements of your job won’t be enough to create the trust you want from your supervisor. Personal trust comes from going “above and beyond” what is required—from making a personal sacrifice to showing your support for your boss’s goals. Often, this sacrifice is of time, effort, or other priorities. For you, it might mean volunteering to do a job nobody likes to do, spending extra time on a task that needs to be done, or getting up to speed on a skill that’s difficult to master. Work to create a reputation for doing more than what’s required.
I hope these ideas are helpful. Do other readers have ideas that could help? If so, please share your ideas in the comments below.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations